As a child I lived outdoors, enjoyed our livestock, our gardens, both flower and vegetable. As I grew older, I enjoyed helping as a farm hand. As one of five girls born to my parents, I took on the role a son might have; helping my father grind feed, shell corn, sort and move livestock, feeding animals and working in the fields with the crops. My farm years were in the 1960’s.
When I graduated high school and went on to college, my parents were ready to retire. Their retirement coincided with the farm crisis of the 1980’s. They were lucky enough to get out of the business relatively unscathed financially. They did not own their farm; they were sharecroppers. They retired with the income they earned from a farm equipment sale, owning half interest in the equipment with the landlord. Had I been a son in that era, and had my parents owned the land, I might have gone on to farm it, but that was not to be.
I marvel these days at the changes in the farming community. Small farms have been bought up and become huge multi-million-dollar operations. One piece of new equipment may cost more than a modest home. Financial risks remain inherent in farming in the 21st century in the United States, and the emotional consequence of these risks continue to take their toll.
Irina Ivanova, in an article in “Moneywatch” (updated June 2018) noted, “The unequal economy that’s emerged over the past decade, combined with erratic weather and patchy access to health care in rural areas, have had a severe impact on the people growing America’s food. Since 2013, farm income has been dropping steadily, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year, the average farm’s income is projected to be 35 percent below its 2013 level.”
Farm families face their stressors in isolation, working alone and outside of a work community. They spend hours on end working during peak times, barely taking time to sleep and eat. The farming culture has been one of keeping troubles “close to the vest” and not seeking emotional support outside of the immediate family, and sometimes not even within the family.
Suzanne Pish, a social-emotional health extension educator with Michigan State University Extension, encourages those living in rural communities to look for the following signs of chronic, prolonged stress in farm families:
In my work as a mental health therapist, I have had the privilege of walking beside stressed farm families on their journey. Science and technology have presented many options not available to farmers several decades ago, assisting them in placing some controls on what may be happening in their business. It remains true, however, that many circumstances are outside of their control. In those times, (as well as when all is going well) it is imperative to have a solid relationship with our Creator, knowing and believing that He will work all things for good and will take care of us and our families, no matter what.
Unfortunately, this ultimate truth can get lost in the strain and the fear and the heartache of battling the weather, livestock illness, and crop prices. Farming is tough, but God offers you His great strength to overcome these tough times. I offer Biblical evidence that farmers are among the blessed in God’s creation and of the strength He offers you:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Be sure you know the conditions of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . . . I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Lutheran Family Service offers Christ-centered counseling that can assist in times of stress related to any life circumstance. This can be for individuals, couples, and families. Learn more at https://lutheranfamilyservice.org/mental-health-counseling/ .
In addition, Iowans can call the ISU Extension and Outreach Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985, for help and referrals for dealing with stress. The Iowa Concern website at www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/ has a live chat feature as an additional way to talk with stress counselors. Agencies and professionals serving individuals and families can contact local ISU Extension and Outreach offices about Iowa Concern hotline number business cards available for distribution.
Toni Larson, LISW
Clinical Social Work for Lutheran Family Service serving Fort Dodge (515-573-3138) and Sioux City (712-276-9000) or Contact Us